Localism - Eric Pickles does not mean what he says - Mercury July 2012


We’re all heartily fed up with politicians who say one thing and mean another and end up making contradictory statements. So it is with benefits, for example. We are told we should work longer before we get our pensions. Then we are told that the unemployed should be made to work and have their benefits cut. We ask ourselves: how can the unemployed be made to work if employment opportunities are so few and far between, and would-be pensioners are being urged to keep working, instead of retiring and passing back employment opportunities to younger people?


Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for “Communities” promoted a statute with a title which includes the word “localism”, and says he expects local communities to be responsible for local decisions – even to the extent of being able to make “neighbourhood plans”. So do his actions match his words? Malton and Norton Town Councils with about a quarter of Ryedale’s population decided they did not like to see country council members impose on them things they don’t want. So both town councils took Eric Pickles at his word and prepared a neighbourhood plan. They consulted the public in and about Malton and Norton and amended their neighbourhood plan to accord with the views obtained from the public consultation – which Ryedale promptly ignored and arrogantly gave planning permission for a superstore at Wentworth Street Car Park, in order to realise a new site development value of £5M.


The one thing Ryedale did not want was a public enquiry into this decision. So they found a legal pretext to stop the Council debating a motion calling for one. However, the decision still had to be referred to Mr. Pickles and Mr. Pickles had the power to order a public enquiry whether Ryedale wanted one or not. He has decided not to intervene.

In the meantime, Ryedale had been processing their own new local plan – the “draft Ryedale Plan”. It is best practice that all major changes to the development plan should be dealt with through the local plans process. The car park decision was one such major change, because the car park is not within Malton’s carefully drawn commercial limits. Two days before Eric Pickles decided not to intervene, Ryedale had agreed the date for a public enquiry into the draft Ryedale Plan. That is where the future of the car park should have been debated. Eric Pickles knew the date set for the enquiry is 11th September, and that by not intervening he had allowed Ryedale to predetermine one of the most important issues in the plan.


So every big developer throughout the country now knows  they don’t have to worry about Mr. Pickles’ department. District Planning Authorities can do as they please, and like Ryedale, treat planning permissions as commodities which can be bought and sold – regardless of the impact on the community. This is what “localism” means – it has little to do with the wishes of the local community.


Mr. Pickles decision proves that he is not prepared to enforce national planning policies against local planning authorities. This offers the public no protection against rogue planning authorities like Ryedale. He should be sacked.



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